There are three public campsites at Donner Summit located next to historical and recreational opportunities: Donner Memorial State Park, Hampshire Rocks and Indian Springs.
DONNER MEMORIAL STATE PARK
The Donner Memorial State Park is built on the actual site where the Donner Party wintered in 1846-47. The park extends west to Donner Lake, and south to Coldstream Canyon and Schallenberger Ridge, so there is a lot to see and do.
How to Get There: Westbound on I-80, get off at the Donner Pass Road exit. Turn left at the first stop sign, go straight at the next stop sign, and then take the next left. Eastbound on I-80 get off at the Donner Pass Road exit, turn right at the stop sign, and take the first left.
As you enter the park a large parking lot and the Emigrant Museum is in front of you. If you want to go to a campsite, turn right and stop at the kiosk (8AM to 11PM) for directions and to pay your fees. Off hours, there are “iron rangers” where you can pay your fees.
Specifics: 154 camping sites with fire rings, picnic tables, and 36”x43”x22” metal bear resistant containers where you must store your food, beverages, and toiletries. There are also rest rooms, showers, and a picnic area. The museum functions also as a visitor’s center. This is the only campground in the area that is handicapped accessible. There are three campgrounds. The earliest opens May 28th, the latest closes Sept 12th. In addition to the museum, there is a Pioneer Monument and the Donner Party's Murphy family cabin site. The altitude is about 6200 ft, and the weather unpredictable. Summer temperatures are 75-40, winter 40-20. Fees are $35 plus an $8 reservation fee for a car with one trailer. For hiking or biking the fee is $7 with a 2 night maximum. For information and reservations, call (530) 582-7894
What to do: Hiking or mountain biking on regular trails or nature trails. If you want a challenge, the road that goes into Coldstream Canyon connects to a trail that goes all the way up to the Pacific Crest Trail. If you don't want a challenge, Coldstream Canyon itself is gorgeous and is criss-crossed by innumerable trails. The campground can also make a good headquarters for a ride around Donner Lake, or loops to Donner Summit, Truckee, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, or Lake Tahoe on a road bike. There is boating and fishing at adjacent Donner Lake. The museum ( http://www.igougo.com/attractions-reviews-b100441-Truckee-Donner_State_Park_Museum.html) is definitely worth a visit if you have any interest in the history of this area. Even if you don’t, it is good enough so that you may become interested. There are snowshoe and cross country skiing trails in the winter, although the campgrounds are closed at that time. If you feel like some great restaurants or shopping, take Donner Pass Road east, turn on to the freeway, then exit in central Truckee.
A beautiful series of campsites nestled in trees next to the Yuba River.
How to get there: Eastbound on I-80, get off at Big Bend, take the frontage road east past Big Bend ranger station on the left then Rainbow lodge on the right. When the road turns left and crosses back under the freeway, turn right instead, and you will enter the campground
Westbound on I-80, get off at Rainbow Road, cross under the freeway. Go straight across the frontage road and jog slightly right into the campground.
Specifics: 31 sites with tables and grills. 7 vault toilets, 6 spigots. No flush toilets, showers, hookups, or waste stations. Open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Elevation 5900 feet. Temperatures are similar to Indian Springs (see below.) Phone 1-877-444-6777 for reservations. $20 per night, 14-day max. Not handicapped accessible. There is some noise from nearby I-80.
Big Bend Visitor Center (1 mile west) has abundant information on history and activities. Rainbow Lodge (0.5 miles west) offers excellent meals if you get tired of camp food. Hot showers for $5 and RV waste station for $10 are available at Cisco Grove Campground 2 miles to the west.
What to do: Fishing, hiking, whitewater kayaking, wading in the Yuba River, and sun bathing. A segment of Old Highway 40 begins in Cisco Grove and runs right by the campground on its way to Truckee. This offers a peaceful back road for a bike ride to Soda Springs, Donner Summit, or even Donner Lake if you are up for a stiff pull on the way back.
INDIAN SPRINGS The springs is a great place to go if you like water.
Rattlesnake Creek, Fordyce Creek and the South Fork of the Yuba River are all in the neighborhood. Cool, shady campgrounds provide a chance to see many large cedars, which have been extirpated from most of the Sierra. The Yuba River runs along its southern border The freeway is across the river, but the trees and the sound of the river minimize the noise.
How to get there: East or west bound on I-80, get off at the Eagle Lakes road and head first north, then immediately west 0.7 miles. The campground will be on your left.
Specifics: 34 sites with tables and grills, including 6 tent sites. 8 spigots. Vault toilets, no flush toilets. No hookups, waste stations, or showers. Firewood available for a fee. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. Elevation 5400 feet. Temperatures 80s/40s in summer. $20 per day, maximum 14 days. Phone 1-877-444-6777 for reservations. Not handicapped accessible. Hot showers for $5 and RV waste station for $10 are available at Cisco Grove Campground 1.5 miles to the east.
What to do: Swim and wade, fish, whitewater kayaking, hike, or 4 wheel. There is a trailhead off the frontage road west of the campground with innumerable and widespread hiking and OHV trails. Possible destinations include Mears Lake Valley trail, Sugar Pine Point trail, Grouse Ridge trail, Spaulding Lake Trail, Mears Lake Valley trail, Big Valley trail (maps are available at Big Bend Ranger Station 2 miles to the east.) There is also rock climbing off the access road east of the campground. The cliffs are clearly visible from the road.